The Tennessee women's basketball team has had a nice season so far to start the Kellie Harper era.
The 25th-ranked Lady Volunteers are close to 20 wins, a number they didn't reach last year in Holly Warlick's final campaign as coach.
For most women's basketball programs in this country, that alone would be a success. In Knoxville, though, fans judge their team by its national profile, and the Lady Vols' wins have come against a schedule considered weak by most measurements.
After Thursday's 75-65 loss at LSU, Tennessee sits at 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Only one of those wins — the Lady Vols' 63-58 victory over LSU on Jan. 26 in Knoxville — is against a team ranked in the top 50 of the Rating Percentage Index. Only three of the wins are against teams ranked in the RPI's top 100 — Alabama, Georgia and LSU — with the Lady Vols now 3-7 against teams in that group.
Junior guard/forward Rennia Davis led the way for Tennessee with 19 points and six rebounds at LSU (18-5, 8-3), which has struggled against Tennessee in recent seasons, but as has been the case too often, she had little help as no other Lady Vol finished with more than nine points.
For LSU, junior guard Khayla Pointer had 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, junior forward Awa Trasi had 22 points and shot 5-for-10 from 3-point range and freshman guard Tiara Young scored 10 points.
Tennessee, which trailed for the final 21:06, trimmed a nine-point second-half deficit to 51-50 on a short jumper by Jazmine Massengill with 9:12 to play, but on the Lady Vols' next possession Kasiyahna Kushkituah was fouled and split a pair of free throws. Trasi and Davis traded 3s, but LSU went on a 15-5 spurt to pull away.
The Lady Vols host 16th-ranked Texas A&M (19-5, 7-4) at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Tigers spent much of the second half playing off Pointer, who had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists while playing all 20 minutes after the break. Trasi was equally impressive, but it all started with the 5-foot-7 guard.
Tennessee's bench outscored LSU's 20-15, but the host team's starters outscored Tennessee's by 15, with starters not named Davis accounting for 26 of those Lady Vols points on 9-for-29 shooting.
The Lady Vols' hopes had been hanging by a thread, but LSU cut it with the back-breaking 15-5 run in the fourth quarter that turned a two-point lead into a 12-point edge.
WHAT IT MEANS
It was another opportunity for Tennessee to pick up a quality win, but poor execution and lack of a second scorer again hurt the Lady Vols. Only two more of those chances remain on the schedule — they travel to Arkansas next Thursday — before three games against teams with a combined 5-26 mark in SEC play. This team could use a quality win to solidify its standing as a legit NCAA tournament team.